Sydney FC playmaker Milos Ninkovic consolidated his reputation as one of the finest and most influential imports in the history of the A-League by delivering yet another master class at the weekend.
The slick Serb played a major part in the Sky Blues’ championship and premiership double last season and he left no doubt about his drive and ambition to do it all over again by stealing the show in the Big Blue against Melbourne Victory which Sydney won 1-0.
The statistics will show that the match was decided by an own goal from Thomas Deng.
What they will not reveal is the top class performance from Sydney’s master of ceremonies who added glamour to the big occasion with several prime examples of his jaw-dropping skill and flair.
Ninkovic was here, there and everywhere and even found time to play a number of incredible passes that took your breath away. He rightly was named man of the match.
In the second half he found David Carney with a through ball of such surgical precision, from a difficult position in his own half, that the substitute striker must have been surprised that the vertical pass actually came off.
On another occasion Ninkovic was standing on the edge of the 'D' and he nonchalantly flicked the ball backwards to free up Luke Wilkshire but the overlapping fullback saw his shot across goal saved by Lawrence Thomas.
There was talk towards the end of last season that Ninkovic, who played for Serbia against Australia at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, might not extend his two-year contract.
But Sydney wisely tempted Ninkovic with marquee status and he put pen on paper on a new deal only days after slotting home the winning penalty in the grand final shootout against Victory in May.
“Not only is he a great player but he is a great ‘team’ man,” coach Graham Arnold says of his star.
“His work rate is fantastic. He is a dream to coach.”
Ninkovic’s success in Sydney is a compelling argument for those who maintain that the A-League is better off looking for reliable imports of a sufficiently high standard than by being blinded by expensive big names that are at the end of their careers.
It is all well and good for the A-League to draw such genuine superstars as Alessandro Del Piero who was the kind of guy to put bums on seats wherever he played.
Yet Sydney themselves would probably admit that the Italian legend was not such an overwhelming success on the field of play in his second season when he clearly showed his age. He was 39 when he left Sydney.
Del Piero scored some memorable goals in his first season but he was unable to make the difference to a Sky Blues side that admittedly was much poorer individually and collectively than it is now.
Ninkovic, on the other hand, has been consistently strong since he came here in 2015 at a fraction of Del Piero's cost and I have no qualms about declaring that his overall contribution to the Sky Blues’ cause is more telling than that of the more famous ‘Pinturicchio’.
Ninkovic is not the only quality foreigner to light up the league despite lacking a superstar billing.
Crowd-pulling attackers such as Carlos Hernandez, Gui Finkler, Thomas Broich, Besart Berisha, Marcos Flores, Diego Castro, Marcelo Carrusca and Bruno Fornaroli came to Australia as virtual unknowns but they have left an indelible mark on the competition with their very special deeds on the field. Some of the goals they scored will be remembered for many years.
Sydney’s major signing Adrian Mierzejewski is already looking the part and the Polish international could become just as successful and influential.
The same can be said of Western Sydney Wanderers' new Spanish signings Oriol Riera, Alvaro Cejudo and Raul Llorente.
Sydney are not the only club that appear to understand the value of a classy foreigner who is not necessarily a major international star.
Sure, Del Piero and Dwight Yorke before him were engaged mainly as a means of raising the club’s profile and boosting home gates.
But the overwhelming success of consistent Ninkovic illustrates very clearly that if any individual plays a key part in improving his team then the long-term playing and economic benefits would outweigh the band-aid solution the acquisition of a big-name hasbeen can provide.